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When the Cats and the Cards take the field Sunday afternoon, the hatred of the rivalry runs deep through the players and the fans.
One of the coaches, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips or Louisville’s Charlie Strong, will feel his seat get a little hotter on Sunday night, based on the outcome of this season opener.
But it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when fans didn’t spend all summer talking about the impending match-up. In fact, they didn’t even really clamor to play each other.
“In those days, they wouldn’t play us,” said Simpsonville resident and former Louisville All-American offensive lineman Ken Kortas, who graduated in 1964. “Of course, I don’t think we would’ve been very competitive either. We were considered a small school in those days. There wasn’t any BCS or anything like that. It was just major college and small school.”
Former Shelbyville and Shelby County High School head coach and current Collins defensive coordinator Tom Becherer, who also played defensive back at Kentucky from 1962-65, said it wasn’t really discussed at UK.
“No, no. In fact, we had a lot of guys on the team from Louisville,” he said. “But it just wasn’t a big deal.”
But now they both agree that it’s a good idea to play.
“I do enjoy it now,” Kortas said. “It’s good for the state, it’s good for the guys playing, it’s good for everybody. I wish we had it when I played.”
Becherer agreed: “I’m glad they play now. It’s really good for the state and for football,” he said.
When Sunday rolls around, both men will find themselves at home watching the game. Kortas said he gave up his season tickets a few years ago. Becherer said he still has tickets for UK, but he didn’t look for any for the game at Louisville.
And both will be rooting on their alma maters.
“Oh, I’ll be rooting for UofL because I don’t want to hear it from the UK people. It shuts them up for a while,” Kortas said jokingly. “Of course, you want the bragging rights. You don’t want to hear all that back and forth.”
Becherer said he doesn’t hate UofL, and he, in fact, still sees it very similar to his playing days.
“I don’t really talk much about it,” he said. “Around here, with a few exceptions, it’s mostly UK fans. But, as a player, I hate it when UK plays poorly. But it’s just a game. These people walking out of the stadium cussing and saying we need a new coach and we need a new quarterback, it’s just a game.”
As far as predictions, neither wanted to put a score on it, but both agreed that Louisville certainly has the edge.
“I think it’s up in the air,” Becherer said. “Louisville certainly has the statistical advantage and experience. But this year I think we got a lot going for us because nobody expects us to win.
“There are a lot of underdog winners in this series. Like last year, I think everybody expected UK to win and Louisville came in with that quarterback [Teddy Bridgewater] and got the win.”
Kortas pretty much echoed the old saying about not looking ahead.
“You got to like UofL, but you don’t ever underestimate your opponent,” he said. “If you do, you’re in big trouble, especially in a game like this. I’ve been in plenty of games where it looked like we were head and shoulders above the other team and lost.”
But, as Kortas put it, this game is so big for the state now; there “really aren’t any losers.”
“Well, except for the coaches. You have to win this game.”